What does burnout mean?
In terms of human beings, burnout is widely regarded as a healthcare issue. In fact, it is defined by the World Health Organisation as a syndrome, a type of condition that can be diagnosed when a series of different symptoms occur at the same time. Burnout can occur in many ways, and it often affects people uniquely. However, the primary form of the syndrome that healthcare professionals experience is referred to as workplace burnout. This occurs when people have been working for a prolonged period without sufficient respite, usually under a great deal of stress. Sometimes the condition comes on gradually, but in other cases, it can lead to a traumatic event which is debilitating. Since it is a widespread phenomenon, multiple definitions are available, of which no single one has established itself as the dominant explanation.
Can burnout cause depression?
It is not possible to say burnout itself causes clinical depression. However, people who are suffering from the syndrome will often show a range of depressive symptoms. These include, but are not limited to, sleep deprivation, low mood feelings, cognitive alterations and lethargy. In fact, Herbert Freudenberger, who was the first psychologist to publish in an academic journal using the terms 'burnout', referred to burned-out people as looking, acting and seeming depressed.
Are burnout and stress the same?
It is important not to conflate burnout and stress. This is because stress, especially when it is felt in the workplace, is not necessarily a problem for many workers unless it goes on unchecked. When people start to feel burned out, it is usually because there have not been sufficient breaks from stressful situations or that the level of stress they have been put under has reached intolerable levels. In other words, excessive stress – along with other factors - may lead to someone being burned out, but they are not precisely the same thing.
Which risk factors are associated with burnout?
Research suggests that workers who may be susceptible to burnout have been working in a crucial role with lots of responsibility for a long time. This is especially the case when the role is not sufficiently recognised, supported or rewarded. People who are more predisposed to conditions like anxiety or depression are also considered to be more susceptible to burnout because they are usually less able to cope with the stressors they face. Too few resources, excessive workloads and carrying too much responsibility are common factors reported by people who have become burned out.
How can you avoid burnout?
Taking more rest, avoiding overly long hours and seeking assistance from colleagues are all good ways to avoid burnout. Developing a cynical attitude to the workplace is something to be avoided, too. If this applies to you, try to talk openly with your boss about the situation or, if all other measures fail, look for alternative work opportunities before you burn yourself out.